Maui Business

Union: Some at Maui’s hospital get paid less than Chick-fil-A; rally seeks better Maui Health wages

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Allen Moreno, ICU nurse aide at Maui Memorial Medical Center, rallies for better wages Thursday evening in Kahului. Organized by United Public Workers union, the group represents Maui Health System nurse aides, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, cooks and others. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

Allen Moreno said he loves his full-time job as ICU nurse aide at Maui’s main hospital — but retail giant Target down the street pays more.

“There are many higher paying jobs,” he told Maui Now on Thursday. “Target overnight makes more than I do, and I work at the intensive care unit. Chick-fil-A has very competitive wages.”

Moreno said he and many other Maui Health System employees have multiple jobs in order to survive Maui’s high cost of living. He works Instacart, Shipt and DoorDash on top of his 40 hours a week in Maui Memorial Medical Center’s ICU. 

“We need competitive pay to retain people and to attract youth,” he added.

While health care workers are essential, Maui service industry and retail jobs are outpacing some hospital wages.

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“Starting at Chick-fil-A is higher than most of our janitorial and housekeeping workers,” said Kalani Werner, state director of United Public Workers AFSCME, Local 646, AFL-CIO.

Werner, Moreno and hundreds of other Maui Health System frontline health care workers and supporters rallied for better pay during an event Thursday evening along Kaʻahumanu Avenue in Kahului. The informational rally continues from 4 to 6 p.m. today fronting old Kahului Shopping Center.

Saying hospital officials are putting profits above people — especially during a time when Maui’s frontline healthcare workers are barely recovering from the pandemic — Maui Health staff held signs, waved and cheered as drivers honked and yelled. 

“I’m so happy everybody came down. I wasn’t expecting this much,” said Etwina Rubon, Maui Health certified nurse assistant. “I hope they hear us; they hear our voice. Not just one.”

Blue-collar workers, many of them still in scrubs, comprised nurse aides, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, cooks and others. Represented by United Public Workers AFSCME, Local 646, AFL-CIO, the Maui Health employees have been working without a contract since June 30, 2022.

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Now, negotiations are at an impasse, the union said Thursday. The biggest issue is “below-average wage increases at a time of soaring inflation and workforce labor shortages.”

PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

Maui Health in a statement Thursday said it is continuing to bargain in “good faith” with the United Public Workers union. 

“Negotiations with UPW are continuing this week, December 30, and we have offered two additional meeting dates in early January to continue our good faith negotiations,” Tara Cole, Maui Health human resources director, said in the news release. “We had hoped the union would be agreeable to meet earlier this month, but to no avail. We are working on a fair, equitable agreement that will hopefully be resolved soon.”

Recruiting health care professionals is an ongoing industry challenge, and hospital staffing shortages are happening nationwide, the release added.

While Maui Health acknowledged that Hawaiʻi has the highest cost of living in the country, it said the Aloha State pays the second-highest health care worker salaries in the country.

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“The high cost of living further challenges the ability to recruit and retain employees,” Maui Health added.

However, Werner said hospital leadership has “not provided any viable way for us to move forward.”

Much of the issue is fair wages amid skyrocketing costs of living. Employees love their jobs, they just want to be able to pay for housing and other basic needs, he said.

PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

Leonard Rodrigues, Maui Health maintenance leader, said that he hopes the rally informs Maui’s government officials.

“I hope our council members and our new mayor can take a look and see what’s going on,” he said. “We need the community’s help to show that what we truly care about is caring for them — anyone who comes through the door, for any emergency and any situation.”

Maui Health System, which includes Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lānaʻi Community Hospital, is managed by Kaiser Permanente. 

Maui Health System employees with the United Nurses and Health Care Employees of Hawaiʻi union in November rallied for better pay.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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